In an online learning environment, most interaction
is conducted via electronic communication.
The most common forms are bulletin boards, discussion boards, email, chat,
phone, and fax. In the future it may become more common to interact through
emerging desktop videoconferencing technologies. The current commonly used
technologies are centered around the written word. It is expected that
greater use will be made of audio and video means of communication as soon as
issues are resolved.
There are many things to think about as we learn about electronic communication.
Here are some of them:
- When the communication takes place asynchronously,
there is more time to think about what you want to say than in real time
- There is a permanent transcript of the
communication which provides a record that can be re-read at a later time.
- You may be in class with students from all over the
world which provides opportunities to learn about people from other cultures.
- Communicating electronically sometimes levels the
playing field because we donít always know
the demographics of those with whom we are communicating. The opportunities for
interacting with the ideas a person presents without awareness of age, gender,
nationality, physical and mental disabilities and other physical characteristics
sometimes allows us to deal with the ideas presented in a more pure form than
when we are aware of these characteristics.
- Interacting without the benefit of non-verbal cues, especially voice intonation,
creates the potential for misunderstanding. It becomes essential that
electronic communications incorporate elements of kindness and concern
for the other person. This might not be as important in face-to-face interaction.
Take a look as these online resources for more information about courteous
online communication which is commonly referred to as
- Some online courses expect all participants to
contribute to the development of knowledge by contributing to a
discussion board or forum. This often results in a strong sense of community among
those that actively participate.
- This form of communication relies heavily on writing
skills. Clarity and brevity are generally valued.
Examples of electronic communication methods and some
possible uses in online courses
List-serve is a mail list of specific
individuals who regularly participate in discussions. You become a member
of a list-serve by subscribing to the list. To subscribe, you send an
email to the list-serve moderator asking to become a member of the list.
In some online courses this is the method that students and instructor use to
communicate with one another.
Discussion Boards or Forums, Bulletin Boards, or Threaded
Discussions are used for threaded class discussion. Sometimes the
instructor begins a thread or topic and sometimes students are required to begin
the thread. This provides everyone in the course the opportunity to write
their ideas and read the work of others in the course. Some instructors
require students to submit their class assignments to the discussion board with
the expectation that students will read each others' work. Some
instructors use discussion board posting as an opportunity for students to
summarize and reflect on what they have learned. It is frequently expected
that students will collaborate on assignments using special areas set aside for
their group on the discussion board.
Email is used in online courses for
students to communicate privately with one another
- for the instructor to
communicate privately with individual students or publicly with the whole
- for students to communicate privately with the
It has the advantage of being slightly more intrusive
than posting to a list-serve or a discussion board because the message is there
whenever the person opens her or his mailbox.
Chat provides the opportunity for people to
communicate in real time or synchronously. Some instructors use this tool
as way for students to get to know each other in a more "social" environment.
Other instructors use it for live office hours, tutoring sessions, or class
discussion. Synchronous discussion can be somewhat chaotic unless the instructor develops
protocols for moderating the discussion. In this environment it is particularly
important to keep your communication concise. Very few people can write as
fast as they think or talk. That difference becomes most apparent as you
participate in a chat session. Emerging technologies that include voice
and video with the chat function are making this a more educationally useful
White Boards are used to communicate in
real time using graphic interpretations across the Internet. The use of
whiteboards are particularly useful during a chat session.
Web Pages are used in online courses not only to
deliver course materials, but also by students to complete assignments and
communicate with one another over the Internet. Some are simply documents
developed in a word processing document and saved as HTML. Others are
sophisticated projects that may have been created in a HTML editor like
Dreamweaver or FrontPage and include graphics, animation, hyperlinks, and other
interactive devices. These projects are then posted on the Internet
for class members to view.